Wednesday, January 31, 2018

"If you are not willing to be a fool you can't be a master"

I am on a Jordan Peterson video perusal kick.  Interesting guy who has become notable in his forthrightness.   Whats going on with Jordan Peterson is another topic though.  My most recent exposure to Peterson was this youtube video entitled "If you are not willing to be a fool you can't be a master". 

The video reminds me of my own past.  As a college student, I made a decision to pursue knowledge for my sake regardless of the consequences.   Contrary to drama ridden high school, my college experience was largely anonymous and opening.  College was like a huge intellectual sandbox, with a limitless supply of fascinating topics to peruse. It was freedom for me to be there.

University at that time was not like I perceive it to be now.  These days, it seems oddly stilted by social justice and corporate influences and I am glad I do not have to deal with that.  Back then it still felt like an ivory tower of wizards. It seemed to me that the purpose of university was to research the mysteries of the universe. Brilliance in research was what professors were judged for not their popularity or prowess at teaching.  As a result, it might have felt like a callous place to some. It was clearly up to the student take responsibility for their own learning.   Knowledge was not given to you.  You had to obtain it for yourself.

I loved this.  For the first time and possibly the last time in my life my own merit mattered more than position or other's opinions of you.  I became the person who sat at the front of the class and asked questions every day without fail.  I would engage professors and walk them back to their office in pursuit of my various quests and I was relentless.  At first, I was not sure how professors would handle my new found intensity.  I thought they might just ridicule me and blow me off. 

Instead they were thrilled.  Even when I annoyed them they were thrilled.  I studied geology with a fellow who was a world expert in vulcanology.  He was a truly crappy lecturer.  A clear introvert, he he would hang his head and mumble away for the whole hour and a half.  Mostly, he drove people crazy.   Instead of taking notes, which was impossible because I could not follow him,  I ended up writing a list of questions that roughly followed his train of thought.  After class, I would present him with my list determined to obtain what he had offered us.   In that 20 minutes postlude, that was where my real learning occured.

The first time I did this, he was shocked.  He looked up with the wide open eyes of a deer being caught by a predator.  I introduced myself and said "Sir, I really want to learn this stuff. Would it be alright with you if I come up after class to ask you specific questions?"  He raised his eyebrows incredulously and replied "Umm, ok..."  as if he were uncertain that this was not some kind of joke.  I proceeded to do so.  One on one he was amazing in his depth of understanding and his kindness.  I developed a real mentor relationship with this guy, ths odd fellow that the other students thought was terrible.  

I kept doing this with other teachers throughout my training, especially with the awkward professors that other people avoided.  Clearly the most brilliant of my profs were often the most awkward.  These were the people who truly were dedicated to their own quest for understanding.  They did not have time to be good at teaching or even socially agile as well.  I don't think these people get hired much any more.  Too bad.

One fellow, Dr. Ed Bellis from Penn State University, became my advisor and helped me get into grad school.  He was a tough military minded grouchy old guy who used to yell at college students to get their feet off of the chairs.  Most of my friends thought he was an asshole.  I thought he was great. When I failed to get accepted by his alma mater, this rough flat topped grisly who looked and acted like a gunny sargeant actually teared up.

This was a time of major awakening for me.  Not only did I doggedly pursue my understanding in school, I also opened myself to trying all sorts of things outside of academics.  I am not talking about wanton and stupid activities like over drinking or drugs or partying.  I am talking about things that challenged and pushed me to grow.   These were the things that made my heart sing. They were touching upon who I wanted to be as a human being.

As Peterson relates in that video, the road to mastery of yourself is an angular path, often overshooting and missing the mark.  If you keep at it though, over time, you get closer and closer until one day, maybe right before you die,  you look up and you are close enough that you kinda get it.   You begin to manifest who you really are.

My martial arts journey began at this time of openness.  It was one of those lifechanging pathways outside of academics.  In truth,  I was pulled to martial arts ever since my dad showed me a bit of "combat judo" that he had learned as an MP in the Navy.   In high school, martial arts schools were hard to find and I was too scared to face such a challenge anyway.  New schools were popping up around college campuses though and one day I overcame my hesitations and lept into the abyss. 

The Fool in the tarot decks is one of the major arcana, an important card.  It is perhaps the most powerful of all, symbolizing openness and the 'beginners mind". 

From Wikipedia:  "The Tarot of Marseilles and related decks similarly depict a bearded person [the fool] wearing what may be a jester's hat; he always carries a bundle of his belongings on a stick (called a bindle) slung over his back. He appears to be getting chased away by an animal, either a dog or a cat. The animal has torn his pants.[4]"

I had donned the vestige of the Fool in college. I was the one looking like an idiot, asking all the seemingly dumb questions.  As a result of all those dumb questions I excelled.  I actually began to understand and I continued to grow.  Likewise in the martial arts, I was always the guy who asked the awkward questions.  If somethiing did not make sense I would perk up and pursue it with sometimes ridiculous vigor. If the teacher did not appreciate that I would find another way, by practicing with other teachers, by moving around.  I also got "chased by dogs and cats" more than once.

As a martial arts teacher, I do not shut down the Noble Fools.  The people who take the risk to ask the questions are the often ones who end up following the path to mastery.  

This willingness to ask questions is not meant to encourage abrasiveness in students.  That is not being the Noble Fool, that is simply being foolish.  What I am talking about is the Rage to Know.  The Rage to Know is a kind of possession where it is not enough just to follow or emulate.  You have to KNOW down in your deepest core.  That Rage to Know is the path of the Fool.

The sages say  "Even the masters may appear as simpletons"

So to all my fellow Fools out there,  ask your questions, dig deep, and make your mistakes. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Medieval Fitness

Ibn Sina (Avicenna) was a muslim philosopher circa 1000 ad who wrote on health, natural philosophy, mathematics and the nature of the soul. His works were translated into Greek and other western languages and were heavily utilized in the west. His Canon of Health was used in medieval universities in Europe all through the middle ages at the time when western martial arts were being developed.

I love this stuff. Around 1000 A.D. a muslim philosopher was extolling the virtues of exercise in a way that makes sense today. I imagine medieval knights making use of this information and the influence of such early philosophers spreading into mainstream European thought.

On the Benefits of Exercise (Wikipediea):

"Once the purpose of medicine has been set forth, then from pages 377–455, Ibn Sina divides the way of achieving health [in this way]: ‘Since the regimen of maintaining health consists essentially in the regulation of:

(1) exercise 
(2) food and 
(3) sleep, 

we may begin our discourse with the subject of exercise’.(Avicenna 1999, p. 377)

Exercise itself is divided into three main parts: 

The Massage (which is equivalent to massaging your muscles before you start to exercise); 
The Exercise itself; and lastly 
The Cold Bath.

Giving one of the greatest benefits of the regimen of exercise, and then explaining the extremely important and necessary need for physical exercise; Ibn Sina states:  "Once we direct the attention towards regulating exercise as to amount and time, we shall find there is no need for such medicines as are ordinarily required for remedying diseases dependent on [abnormal] matters, or diseases of temperament consequent upon such. This is true provided the rest of the regimen is appropriate and proper."(Avicenna 1999, p. 377)

The value of exercise includes the following ( from Avicenna 1999, p. 379):

“(1) it hardens the organs and renders them fit for their functions 
(2) it results in a better absorption of food, aids assimilation, and, by increasing the innate heat, improves nutrition 
(3) it clears the pores of the skin 
(4) it removes effete substances through the lungs 
(5) it strengthens the physique. Vigorous exercise invigorates the muscular and nervous system.”

Regarding the exercises:
"The exercises themselves are divided into 'strenuous, mild, vigorous and brisk”. 
On pages 379–381; Ibn Sina states the types of exercises under each type:

"Strenuous exercises include: wrestling contests, boxing, quick marching, running, jumping over an object higher than one foot, throwing the javelin, fencing, horsemanship, swimming. Mild exercises include: fishing, sailing, being carried on camels, swinging to and fro. 

Vigorous exercises include: those performed by soldiers in camp, in military sports; field running, long jumping, high jumping, polo, stone throwing, lifting heavy stones or weights, various forms of wrestling. 

Brisk exercises include: involves interchanging places with a partner as swiftly as possible, each jumping to and fro, either in time [to music] or irregularly."(Avicenna 1999, pp. 379–81)

There are certain important things to note once you start exercising, one is the amount, the other consistency; Ibn Sina states about the amount:

"(1) the colour - as long as the skin goes on becoming florid, the exercise may be continued. After it ceases to do so, the exercise must be discontinued."(Avicenna 1999, p. 384)

On being consistent with exercise Ibn Sina states (on the importance of having a regimen):

"At the conclusion of the first day's exercise, you will know the degree of exercise allowable and when you know the amount of nourishment the person can bear, do not make any change in either on the second day. Arrange that the measure of aliment, and the amount of exercise shall not exceed that limit ascertained on the first day."(Avicenna 1999, p. 385)

On the side note those who think themselves to be elderly, and thus think of shunning exercise, Ibn Sina wrote a complete chapter titled "Concerning the Elderly" in the Qanun, and states the same regimen for them, as he does for others. He states on page 433:

"For if, towards the end of life, the body is still equable, it will be right to allow 'attempered' exercises. If one part of the body should not be in a first-rate condition, then that part should not be exercised until the others have been exercised. ... On the other hand, if the ailment were in the feet, then the exercise should employ the upper limbs: for instance, rowing, throwing weights, lifting weights."(Avicenna 1999, p. 433)”

all from Wikipedia and quoting this text:
Avicenna (1999). The Canon of Medicine (al-Qānūn fī'l-ṭibb), vol. 1. Laleh Bakhtiar (ed.), Oskar Cameron Gruner (trans.), Mazhar H. Shah (trans.). Great Books of the Islamic World. ISBN 978-1-871031-67-6.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Timing, distance and single stick

It's called "Ma-ai" in Japanese martial arts and in western martial arts its often referred to using two separate concepts: "Measure and Tempo".  George Silver approached this concept as "Finding the true place".  Ma-ai is timing and distancing combined into a unified concept.  According to my karate instructors, the Ma-ai has a distinct feeling that you can use, like radar, tactically.  It is fine tuned awareness of danger.

There is only one Ma-ai between two opponents and in this sense it is a distance. It is the range where you can still escape but where your presence will still influence the behaviour of your opponent. When you are at the "inside edge of the Ma-ai you will have a prickly feeling that you are almost, but not quite, too close.  Inside the Ma-ai is danger:  you will most likely be hitting your opponent, being hit by them, or stifling the attacks by grappling.  At the outside edge of the Ma-ai your opponent will still be poised with awareness, ready to engage.  Moving beyond that distance will cause your influence on your opponent to diminish.  The opponent may relax and re-stage or they may try to approach again.

Tempo and measure in western martial arts are two separated concepts but they work together and they include more than just timing and distancing.  Tempo suggests a relationship between the rhythm of the opponent and your own rhythms.  You can move on the beat or on a half or quarter beat.  The measure also implies a relationship.  You can "Find the Measure" of your opponent.  The measure is the place where your weapon will be effective.

George Silver talked about finding the "True Place".  The True Place is the position where you can strike your opponent without them striking you.  Finding the true place implies a dynamic relationship between you and your opponent.  Silver mentions timing choices to find the True Place.  You can enter within striking range by attacking First, Before, Just, and After.  Each of these timings provides a way to get to the True Place.  All of this is to achieve the "True Fight".  The True Fight is the fight where you escape unscathed.

All of these concepts are valuable models describing the intricate play between timing and distancing.  If you understand timing and distancing you will have a decided advantage over an opponent who does not.  So much so that it almost does not matter what you hit your opponent with if you are a master of timing and distancing.

When Silver talked about the True Place he was talking about a position rather than a distance per se.  The True Place is any position where you can strike with impunity.  The True Place is momentary.  No opponent will allow you to stand for long in such a position of advantage.  So the True Place is fleeting and Silver admonishes us to fly in and then out again and to use our position to bait our opponent and to enter safely when we can.

"The Ma-ai requires advancing and retreating, separating and meeting." From the Bubishi.

He suggests that we use timing to enter and then adds that we can safely move into the true place by crossing swords as well.  Crossing swords can also provide a true place because your sword acts as a fence to protect you when you are in an otherwise unwise place.

The True place is a function of distance but also positioning. It is also a function of the range of weapon ranges and where the target is that you are aiming at.  Silver encourages us to aim at hands and arms because an outstretched arm is closer to your sword than your opponent's sword is to your head or body. To attack at a range where you can also be struck requires that you cross blades in order to protect yourself.  To cross blades creates possibilities to bind and wind, parry and block.  You can become very proficient in these skills.  But things happen very fast when you are fencing outside of the true place. Furthermore you are subject to being overwhelmed by stronger opponents if you are the weaker, smaller one.

Silver used the soldier's weapon, the shorter arming sword instead of the rapier that was lauded by the Italian Maestros of his day.  He even suggested optimum lengths for these swords, limiting them to allow their maneuverability when close to the opponent.  But above all, he emphasized cutting what was available from a safe place.  To not do this is to scoff at the deadliness of the sword.

Enter single stick.  I like single stick for lots of reasons.  It is historical.  People practiced stick fighting, cane fighting, small sword, and sabre using single sticks.  The single stick is basically just a stout sword length stick. It is inexpensive and relatively safe for beginners to use.  The single stick is fast and therefore builds awareness and agility.   The single stick is not really a sword and it does not act like one.  It is too light,  has no edge, and the weighting is all wrong.  But the single stick is also a contemporary weapon of self defence as well as a historical practice weapon.  I can teach the use of a single stick to my stepdaughter and her friends and they can use that skill to defend themselves if they need to.

Lately, I have been using single stick to teach about the True Fight and the True Place.  Because considerations of timing and distancing are fundamental to all martial arts the lessons learned can be adapted to other ways of fighting. 

One objection to using the single stick is the emphasis on striking the hands.  Longsword competitions in particular do not often allow hand strikes and so, it is reasoned, the cross over from single stick is limited.  But the sensation of managing timing and distance is fundamental to fighting and to martial arts.  If you face an opponent empty handed you will still need to understand timing and distance.  The specific distance of the Ma-ai is not a finite distance. It is based on a feeling and on the dynamics of the situation.  Getting in and out of the Ma-ai feels the same regardless of the type of weapon that you or your opponent is using.

As for longsword, this weapon is about ranged fighting.  Its primary function is to be swift and powerful that you use to attack from Largo, that is, from the Ma-ai.  Close play occurs when you cross blades and you need the skills of close play to stay safe and to enter into grappling range.  But staying in the red zone where you are both able to strike and duking it out is not a high form.  

Silver's lessons are pertinent to the longsword.  Don't get hit.  Avoid getting hit by getting in and then getting out in such a way that your opponent can't hit you.  Do this by using timing, positioning, and crossing blades when you need to and by changing the game by closing to grapple. 

The question becomes, then, "Can I adapt the lessons of Silver gained from single stick to longsword and to sword work in general?"  The answer is this: what you learn regarding timing and distancing is fundamental and applies to all weapons, even to spears.  Even to projectile weapons.  Even in large scale movements of troops.  Seek to become proficient in timing and distance, apply these concepts in all of your fighting and you will see how it can transform your skills.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

I Have No Parents Revisited

I Have No Parents
I make the heavens and the earth my parents. 
I have no home: 
I make awareness my home. 
I have no life or death: 
I make the tides of breathing my life and death. 
I have no divine power: 
I make honesty my divine power: 
I have no means: 
I make understanding my means. 
I have no magic secrets: 
I make character my magic secret. 
I have no body: 
I make endurance my body. 
I have no eyes: 
I make the flash of lightning my eyes. 
I have no ears: 
I make sensibility my ears. 
I have no limbs: 
I make promptness my limbs. 
I have no strategy: 
I make "unshadowed by thought" my strategy. 
I have no designs: 
I make seizing opportunity by the forelock my design. 
I have no miracles: 
I make right action my miracles. 
I have no principles: 
I make adaptability to all circumstances my principles. 
I have no tactics: 
I make emptiness and fullness my tactics. 
I have no talents: 
I make ready wit my talent. 
I have no friends: 
I make my mind my friend. 
I have no enemy: 
I make carelessness my enemy. 
I have no armour: 
I make benevolence and righteousness my armour. 
I have no castle: 
I make immovable mind my castle. 
I have no sword: 
I make absence of self my sword. 
Anonymous Samurai 
14th Century

When I first read this I was simply enamoured by the images of selfless knights.
Then it reminded me of how disconnected from community and how people can become isolated from those who matter.
Now I reflect on the impermanent and  insubstantial and how in the absence of certainty, a code can light up the darkness and provide a way.

We talk of lessons learned and of ardently following a way or a belief, and of the certainty that is based on experiences past.

But our memories are unreliable.  

We exaggerate the good things and make them better than they were.  We also exaggerate the bad things and make them more onerous and terrible.  

We re-write our memories every time we think through them.  Each visit leaves a mark until only a vestige of what was remains.  

We compare ourselves to shiny mounds of gold and feel poor.  When we compare ourselves to a pile of rusty detritus and we feel rich.  

We are not good at knowing ourselves.

We are like the aging Don Quixote, whose memory of what was has marred his perception of what is until he tilts with windmills and calls them dragons.

We try to follow codes and the codes are based on beliefs which are based on the past and we do not remember with any accuracy what was in the past at all.  

We fervently admonish our students and our children to follow the way, and the intensity of our words is fear based.  It's a fear that is based on the belief that something bad will happen if we repeat the past.   

We want to believe that our life experiences  can be reliable teachers.   But each life experience is a sample size of one.   We cannot rely on a sample size of one.  We cannot rely on memory.  We cannot rely on the memory of our teachers.

But we have codes and we rely on them.  Its a bit of a catch 22.

The best we can do is to have an opinion and to always be prepared to update our opinion. Each experience is fresh then.  There is still a role for codes and beliefs.  There is just no place for dogma.  We cannot afford to be rigid because it is so easy to be wrong.  Our inability to see ourselves clearly is what causes this.  

So all those things, lessons learned, and all those rigid beliefs?  Relax.  We are simply not that smart.  Each moment is a new one.  Each choice is fresh.  We are not burdened by the responsibility of having to be correct.  We take our shots and deal.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Values in the martial arts.

Watching the news this week inspired me to write again about values and what I want to promote in Swordfighters.  There is an awful lot of duplicity in the world today.  This isn't new I suppose but the way people are universally sick of it regardless of their beliefs is stunning.   This begs a question about what your values are.

As a martial arts instructor, I am not interested in ideological thinking, dogma, or hierarchy though I value and respect my own teachers and students.  Ideologies often seem like a good idea at the time but somehow the original good idea ends up robbing people of awareness and independence. Anyways...without belabouring this post with justifications for writing it here are some thoughts about values in martial arts.

  1. You are free.  You can do what you want.  What you decide to do and how you do it is up to you.  Free will exists despite pressures against it.  I am not your mom or someone that you have to pledge allegiance to. My relationship to you as a teacher is finite.  We are colleagues. Brothers and Sisters in a shared endeavour.
  2. You are responsible for your own spiritual, physical, mental development.  You need to commit to being responsible for your own growth.
  3. You are responsible for the consequences of your actions.  Martial arts in its essence is about being willing to take action.  It is active and not passive.  Its not crazy though.  You are responsible for what you do.
  4. Know what matters to you.  Aspire to a code of values.  You don't have to believe what I believe but you need to have a decent code and you need to try to stick to it.  Here is a list of values that I tend to gravitate towards and think about a lot.  This is personal.  I decided what matters to me.  It is a code that I aspire to and its not etched in concrete.  It has changed as I learned and grew.  I simplified it over time.  The act of working our your personal code is really valuable and a lifelong pursuit.
    • Honor:  My word has to mean something
    • Honesty: Tell the truth
    • Integrity:  What I think, say, feel, and do must all match
    • Courage: Sometimes doing the right thing is hard.  Do it anyway.  
    • Humility: I will fail to hold to my values sometimes. I want to use this realization to bring about kindness and tenacity in myself.
    • Kindness:  Because I fail in my endeavours at times I know what it feels like to struggle. I do not know the dark battles that others face.  Be kind always.
    • Tenacity:    I want to discipline myself to endeavour. The old saying "Fall down seven times get up eight" sticks in my mind. 
  5. Face yourself. Face your fears. That is where your real growth lies.
  6. Question everything. Do not hold to dogma.  Adjust your world view when confronted with evidence of the truth.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Swords and Gear

Much of practice does not require protective gear.  You can learn basic movements with no gear at all really. Even some light sparring can occur without it.  At some point though you will need gear.  Without sparring gear, you won't be able to fight at speed and your sense of timing and distance will suffer.  In practice the gear allows you to experiment and to take some chances.  It also allows you to spar.  Sparring is fun.  Sparring is the laboratory that you can do those experiments in.  Using gear and sparring with blunt swords. like any form of sparring really, is not the same as a fight.  Its a tool that simulates fa real fight.  It keeps you safe.
Its an exciting time to practice western martial arts.  Everything is in development. We are studying the old and reconstructing something new right here right now.  Bureaucracies have not yet solidified and the methods themselves are being rediscovered and are not yet codified.  Likewise with gear.  Until recently most gear has been made by users or handcrafted by makers.  There are a few companies that are just now starting to mass market specific pieces but there is still no "one right way".  The search for the safest, most cost effective, most well made gear continues.
Nevertheless I have some preferences for gear.  I like the SPES jackets.  I like several helmet brands.  Gauntlets continue to be problematic. It is hard to make a glove that provides sufficient protection while also maintaining mobility and lightness.  
There are three levels of protection that I use for my hands.  The lightest level of protection is a light leather glove.  I came across some deer hide motorcycle gauntlets that protect me from minor bumps and abrasions.  For light sparring I like to use Red Dragon gloves which are reminiscent of lacrosse gloves.  For heavy sparring I use Ensifer's Sparring Glove and there are several similar products out there.   St. Mark's Koning Glove is new on the market and holds great promise.  I look forward to checking these out.

Basic Gear requirements for Swordfighters

Beginners practice

  • Swords are provided
  • Scuff free indoor shoes
  • Personal protection (cups or breast protection)
  • Clothing suitable for working out, specifically,  long sleeve T-shirt,  shorts or workout pants that cover the knees
  • Hard shell elbow and knee pads.
  • A gorget (neck protection) or hockey neck guard.

Light Sparring

In addition to the above:
  • Synthetic or steel sparring sword (some synthetic loaners are available)
  • A HEMA helmet or Three weapon fencing mask augmented with protection for the back of the head.
  • A HEMA jacket  or an inexpensive alternative such as an old leather jacket, motocross gear,  or several thick sweatshirts worn over top one another. Motocross gear is cool to wear and provides stiff protection over your most important bits and pieces. You can  often find it used at the Consignment Shop here in Vernon.

Heavy or Tournament Sparring

In addition to the basic requirements above:
  • A steel sword
  • Helmet or three weapon mask with occipital protection (a metal helmet is fine for practices though some tournaments will require HEMA gear)
  • A HEMA specific jacket (heavy armour that performs the same function is also fine for practice with a similar restriction for tournaments)

Gear Reviews

HRoARR has been maintaining a review of gear lately.  Check it out:

Sword Suppliers

Wooden Practice Swords

Purpleheart Armory wooden wasters  Good for inexpensive practice up to sparring.

Synthetic Swords

The synthetic swords that we are presently using in class are the Purpleheart Armory Type III synthetic sword.  I am interested in the Blackfencer line as well, particularly the sharp simulator below.  The sharp simulators have a significant sawtooth pattern on the edges which makes the blade act more like a sharp sword when in the bind.  It's a cool idea.  Watch them in action!

Steel Swords

I use an Albion Meyer steel sword.  It is light and agile an I generally like it though it is less substantial than some of the other swords.  Angus Trim makes a really nice "I-Beam" longsword that several of my colleagues use.  Here are links to several sword suppliers that I like.


The minimum standard for helms is a good quality, no nonsense, three weapon mask.  All of the HEMA masks that you can buy are derivations on this.  If you don't buy a HEMA mask then you will have to augment the Three weapon mask with occipital protection to do heavy sparring.  Considering that the helm is protecting a pretty important piece of real estate they are actually not very expensive and ought to be the very first thing that you buy.  For most HEMA activities it is all that you need.  If you become interested in fighting in armour you will need a full armour kit which is expensive and/or time consuming to acquire or build.
Purpleheart Armory PBT Mask plus mask cover or back of head protector below
Zen Warrior Mask  (You will need a mask cover with this)
You may need to add additional leather to the back of this mask.

Neck Protection

This is to protect mainly from accidental thrusts to the neck. Its one of the pieces of gear that seems unnecessary until you get hit in the neck.

In Vernon, check out the consignment store, Sport Chek, or Sun Valley Sports for hockey neck protection.


Red Dragon gloves from Purpleheart Armory  suitable for light sparring
Ensifer Sparring Gloves  suitable for heavy sparring

Other gauntlets are constantly being developed.  Some people prefer metal gauntlets though these may not be allowed in some tournaments. The above Koning glove may be the answer that everyone has been waiting for.


I really like having a sparring jacket. In many respects it is the equivalent of a medieval gambeson except that it has zippers!

Sparring Pants

There are several companies that produce sparring pants.  They are not essential.   Both of these companies make solid gear and you can find several reviews of them online. The trousers are based on fencing knickers. I have always found them to be somewhat restrictive. I am waiting for an updated version of trousers that are built with more room in the legs and hips and I do not really need thigh protection. I do like the SPES concept of attaching knee protection right to the trouser knees and I would like that in a looser fitting garment. I also like belts. Both of the trousers use suspenders and to me they are in the "seems like a good idea at the time" category. When you use them the trousers ride up and crowd the boys. Until then, I like to use ¾ length shorts since they cover the knee and knee pads will fit under them.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

About teaching kids

Last week one of the kids hurt his ankle during practice.  I checked it out and it wasn’t a big deal.  I am sure it hurt though.  He smacked his ankle right on the funny bone.   I checked it out and got him to breathe and then encouraged him to rejoin the class.  His training partner got my attention as I prepared to move on.  “Uh, I don’t think thats a good idea.” he said.  “What’s not a good idea?”  I asked.  I started to lecture him about letting the other boy be responsible for his own actions.  He interrupted me.  “I don’t think he is ready to go yet.”  “Eh?  Why not?”  He moved closer and lowered his voice.  “He is pretty sensitive about stuff.”  “What do you mean?”  He moves closer still.  “Yesterday he punched a kid for teasing him.  He loses it sometimes.  It would be better to let him recover on his own.”   Such is the nature of teaching kids.  Such is the nature of teaching in general.

That was a pretty brave thing that the training partner did.  He supported his friend and disagreed with me.  I didn't have all the information that I needed.  I haven’t thanked him yet for letting me know and I have not complimented him yet for having the courage to talk to me about this yet but I intend to.

We do not often know what is going on inside the people we teach.  Everyone is potentially engaged in some form of battle that we may know nothing about.  Coincidentally I saw this projected as a Facebook meme the other day.  The admonition was: “Be Kind Always.”

This is why it is important to incorporate values training into martial arts.  We do not know what fears may be pressing on a student.  This is especially true with kids.  I began this year of working with the local community school by talking about my own past.  I told them about how I lived in a fairly rough community and I shared tales of how I defended myself as a kid.  Later that day, as I reflected on what I had said this year, I was troubled by my approach.  I had not talked much about the ethics of martial arts training in my introduction.  I should have.

In most martial arts disciplines values are taught alongside the skills.  “If you let fly with your anger, withhold your fist.  If you let fly with your fist withhold your anger.”  “A gentleman[woman] is never easily drawn into a fight.”  “If you practice with me you have to agree to stay out of fights.”  Perhaps it seems like an hypocrisy to tell people these things alongside teaching them ways to be violent.  It's not.

With kids it is essential to have a discussion about the responsibility of having power.  It is also essential to teach them to face the things, internal or external that they fear.  My teacher referred to this as “Learning to Face Yourself”.  I believe that facing yourself does two things.  It allows you to have self control for those times when fear may grip you and you become a “fear biter.”

Learning to face yourself allows you to act without restraint when you really need to as well. If you face yourself, then if you confront something that is genuinely dangerous you can act calmly and see things realistically. You will not give way to irrational fears.  Facing yourself somehow prevents your internal fears from magnifying the dangers.  Facing yourself thus helps with both self control and in those times when you must express yourself without constraint.

As a teacher you have to be conscious and clear about your own fears as well.  You have to know yourself as you are asking your students to know themselves.  You have a lot to consider as a teacher.  If you do not continue to face yourself, you will superimpose your own issues and fears over the messages that your students are sending you.   Teaching is a position of influence and should not be taken lightly.  If you look at teaching in this way, it is a continuation of your martial training.